Delmarva Stargazers IX Star Party
This year's 9th annual Delmarva Stargazers star party was once again held in the beautiful Tuckahoe State Park located at Queen Anne, MD. Though the party got under way on Wednesday, April 30, I didn't arrive until the following day. By mid-day Thursday the observing field was already beginning to fill up. Unfortunately, the weather predictions for the weekend were not too optimistic. I've been attending star parties too many years to bother listening to weather forecasts. A star party is mainly a social thing. Sure, it's nice to have clear skies, but it's also fun to just get together and talk shop.
A few stars did shine Thursday night. It was clear enough for me to get a good look at NGC 3242, more aptly known as The Ghost of Jupiter and The Eye Nebula. I also had a nice view of another planetary nebula NGC 2392 in Gemini, also known as The Eskimo Nebula. Slewing to Leo I enjoyed seeing the wonderful spiral galaxy NGC 6203, a galaxy which should have been included in Charles Messier's list. Poor Messier, he must have had too much red wine the night he panned his telescope past this 10th magnitude galaxy. Have you seen it? I've managed to see it in a 2.4" Unitron refractor, and even 10x30 binoculars.
After viewing a few more objects I walked around and enjoyed looking a Jupiter in a number of exotic refractors, each costing more than my car (that's an inside joke). By now it was time for a few late-night hot dogs, which were served all night under the canopy at the pavilion located at the south end of the field. By now I was just about ready to tuck myself in for the night, since it had been nearly a 5-hour drive from Virginia Beach to the star party.
I woke up Friday morning to unsettled weather. It never rained, but the sky was mostly overcast, very hot and extremely humid. Just before lunch the sun came out and I became enamored by the absolute best view I have ever had of it. "Barlow Bob" from NY had his fancy Televue refractor fitted with twin 90mm and 60mm Coronado hydrogen alpha filters. Bob's rig was also fitted with a Televue binocular attachment, allowing stereo views of prominences and solar surface detail. Wow, that's all I can say! That, dear readers made the trip to this lovely territory on the Eastern Shore of MD all the more worthwhile. Bob had more invested in his telescope than I in my car (another inside joke).
Though Friday evening's forecast wasn't promising we could only hope for the best. Thunderstorms and possible high winds were heading our way. In fact, the weather looked so threatening as to cause an optional wine and cheese river cruise to be cancelled. Roy and Dee Diffrient invited me to accompany them to dinner in the quaint town of St. Michael's, MD. As we headed back to the observing field after dinner a light rain began to fall, but quickly ended, and the sky began clearing.
Soon after sunset the sky was not all that bad, as most of the clouds had moved on. This evening I glimpsed M 104 (The Sombrero Galaxy), M 108 and M 97 in Ursa Major and even the beautiful face-on galaxy NGC 4030 in Virgo. The moderately clear skies remained until 11:00 pm. When it clouded again most people retired for the night. But wait; by 12:30 am it cleared even again. I was treated to a great view of M 3 and M 27 in Ralph Gruen's new homemade high-definition 10" f/6 Newtonian reflector. A handful of people remained optimistic during the next cover of clouds that rolled in, but I decided to get some rest, since tomorrow night (Saturday) was predicted to be the best of all. That prediction proved to be inaccurate.
Saturday morning was quite cold and blustery, with thick clouds lurking in the sky all day. About one half of the participants apparently heard a revised gloomy forecast and opted to pack up and go home. But towards the end of the day the sun began filtering through the clouds, and by sunset all that could be seen approaching from the west was clear, blue sky. Though the clear skies only lasted a few hours we still had ample opportunity to view many good objects. One highlight for me was viewing the globular cluster M 3 in my 25" with Russ Lederman's new Denkmeier Two binocular viewer fitted with matched Televue 16mm Nagler Type 5 eyepieces. Russ is involved in the manufacture of this fine optical accessory. Yes, it's expensive, and yes there are still some people with understandable reservations about binocular viewers. However, I must say the view of M 3 was the finest I can recall ever seeing. The Denkmeier's merge better than any binocular viewer I have ever use, and their adjustable optical corrector allows them to be used with any telescope, including reflectors.
Just I was preparing to seriously star gaze clouds moved in, and remained in the sky all night. Even if the weather didn't totally cooperate the star party still proved to be rewarding. I've been observing nearly 40 years, yet ever time I attend a star party I walk away with newly acquired knowledge.
Hats off to all the Delmarva Stargazers who worked so hard to make this one of the best star parties around. I shall look forward to their fall gathering.